Children's Nutrition Blog: Baby-led weaning- A basic guide
In the last post I covered a few reasons why it could be a good idea to try baby-led weaning as a way of introducing solids to your baby. Now for some signs it might be the right time to give it a try:
- Core strength. Your baby is capable of supporting themselves in a sitting position for at least a short period of time.
- Hand-mouth coordination. Your baby is able to pick up an object that they want, bring the object to their mouth in order to explore it, and then remove it easily and capably.
- No tongue-thrust reflex. This isn't an issue so much with baby-led weaning but infants who are introduced to solids too early and fed by having a spoon stuck in their face: If a baby cops a mouthful of puree and their tongue immediately thrusts forward and expels most of the food, they probably are not ready to be eating solid foods yet. It's a safety issue: the tongue-thrust shows that the baby does not yet have the oral-motor capabilities required to manipulate food safely in its mouth before swallowing.
- A strong interest in food. If your baby tries to wrestle away food from your hands at every meal, it's a safe bet they have a strong interest in food! They will lean in the direction of food, grab at food, make lip-smacking noises and look incredibly eager... It's pretty hard not to notice when your baby develops an interest in food!
If your child reaches an age where they really should be capable of eating their first solid foods (i.e. 6 months) and they don't meet the first three of the above criteria, check with a medical professional with expertise in infant development before trying baby-led weaning. Indeed, it would be a good idea to follow it up even if you plan to introduce solids the 'traditional' way.
If your child shows an interest in food before 6 months of age and has all the above capabilities, it may also be appropriate to introduce them to food; the new NHMRC draft infant feeding guidelines acknowledge this fact by allowing a 4-week window either side of 6 months. Your baby may meet most or all of the above criteria and you still feel they are not old enough for solids yet (this happened to me with our son- a great surprise, and a story for another post!). I will give some tips for ways to deal with this in another post.
Why is it important to use developmental criteria rather than age as a guide when to try baby-led weaning?
The simple answer is that babies all develop at a slightly different pace to one another! It's more important to know that a baby has the ability to safely feed him/herself than to know that they are X weeks/months old.
What are some good foods to try?
The basic criteria for 'starter foods' in baby led weaning are:
- Baby must be able to pick them up
- They can be easily and safely gummed into pieces, manipulated in the mouth and swallowed. Soft enough to be fairly easily squished between your thumb and forefinger is a good guide.
This post is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm including only a few examples; you will find many more on websites and forum threads devoted to the topic (including Bub Hub).
Note: It's a good idea to remove the skin on most fruit and vegies for a baby just starting out on solids, because it's one of the things likely to be too tough to gum into little pieces- it may cause gagging!
You can try grilling or roasting (brush with olive oil first if the vegetable has been sliced into pieces before cooking), steaming or microwaving.
Pears (ripe, soft)
Don't be afraid to introduce your baby to interesting flavours, herbs and spices. A sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon on cooked apple or sweet potato; some paprika, garlic or finely-chopped thyme on the eggplant (because who eats plain eggplant?).
Fish (cooked) tends to have a nice, soft texture that lends itself well to baby-led weaning.
Red meats: While many babies do love to pick up and gnaw on a T-bone, they aren't going to actually eat much -or any- of it! Slow-cooked lamb, beef (or goat, or whatever), cut into manageable pieces, tends to be soft and easy to chew.
Cheese- while this is nice and easy, remember your baby's diet consists predominantly of breast milk or formula, so it's not as if they need a large intake of dairy items. Try and allow your baby to taste a variety of different cheeses.
General tip for all meats: cut across the grain so you don't get long, stringy muscle fibres from the meat, as these can cause gagging.
There are a few things that you need to keep in mind:
Supervise. You need to be there, and paying attention, when your baby is feeding themselves.
Some foods will need to be modified. E.g. grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into quarters, blueberries into halves. Cherries, lychees and other fruits with similarly small seeds should always have the seed removed. Fish should be carefully inspected for bones. Meat should not be too chewy (e.g. cubes of well-done steak aren't a great idea, but thinly-sliced strips are ok).
One more thing you need to be really careful of when feeding your infant is salt. Tasting a piece of chicken from your curry or a drop of soy sauce on a piece of sweet potato is not going to hurt your baby, but salt is present in high levels a lot of manufactured condiments and a lot of store-bought processed foods (e.g. bread, crackers, cakes, biscuits, sauces, soups and breakfast cereals) that aren't made specifically as foods for babies. Salt intake from foods like these can easily add up. For this reason, it's important to mainly stick to fresh foods that you have cooked yourself when undertaking baby-led weaning.
Finally, wherever possible, buy organic (or grow your own) fruit and vegetables for feeding your baby. Many otherwise great foods can have high levels of herbicide/pesticide residues. Check out the 'Dirty Dozen/Clean 15' guide as an indicator of what fresh foods it's most important to buy organically-grown.
Finally, I noticed that Nutritionist Mum Lisa has also put up an interesting post on baby-led weaning. Check it out!
Chatbox Speech Pathology
Children's Nutrition Research Centre